#2 UNLV 80, #7 Utah 54
March 8, 2007
Coach, if you want to begin with some comments on the game.
COACH KRUGER: I thought it was a ballgame that early on, Utah kind of had us on our heels a little bit with what they were doing offensively. Nevill is a big target in there that does a great job. We gave him a little more room than we wanted to. They got guys around the perimeter that shoot the ball well also.
I thought midway in the first half got a little bit of rhythm defensively, started converting some turnovers into transition opportunities. To be up 10 at the half was a nice run. I thought kind of gradually built it out in the second half.
A lot of different guys played well. Good to see that.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student athletes.
Q: Kevin, in this day and age, there's not a lot of players that get into playing defense, it's all about scoring, highlights. What is it about this team that finds a passion to play defense, especially over the last eight and a half minutes of the first half?
Kevin Kruger: I think it's the crowd really. After a few games into the season, though, we all bought in and realized that defense was our ticket to a successful season.
Everybody bought in. The crowd kind of gets us going. We kind of just play off of it and go from there.
Q: How important was it for you guys at the end of the second half to be able to sit down and get some rest? That's got to help you going into the game tomorrow.
Wendell White: Well, basically we fed off our defense. It was a great job we did for the first 15 minutes of the second half. It's great to get the bench players in. We fed off that.
Kevin Kruger: You know, really I think our depth is one of our strong points. Everyone's we really don't have anyone out there playing 40 minutes. That's what's helped us be successful all year.
You know, I think either way a lot of people are going to play. You know the minutes aren't really off of what they are every night, not much, so it's been good. I'm sure it will help.
Q: Kevin, when you've got you, Wendell and Wink playing as well as you three did tonight, how tough is this team to beat? Is this the first time in a while you think you three really played this well in the same game?
Kevin Kruger: I think tonight was kind of what happens when our of offense is clicking. We played defense I think the same way we played the majority of the year, getting up, frustrating our opponent.
But tonight, you know, the shots were falling a little more than usual. We were getting good looks for each other, creating for each other. The shots were falling. The score kind of spread itself out.
Q: Kevin, can you tell us what it's been like to play this year for your father, what kind of a transition that was coming to the new team as a fifth year guy.
Kevin Kruger: Well, the transition was easy. There was no transition period really when you think about it or when I look back on it. Things just kind of clicked from day one with everybody.
We had a lot of new guys, a lot of people who didn't play last year, whether injury or redshirt. So it was pretty easy for all of us to come together.
Q: What was it like playing for your father?
Kevin Kruger: It's been great to be around my family all year, being able to see him pretty much whenever I want has been something most college kids don't get to do.
Q: Kevin, looked like you were shooting lights out there in the first half from three point range. Are you using that as motivation because you didn't get named for the All Mountain West Conference first team?
Kevin Kruger: No, I don't really look at that. I guess I will now for you (smiling), but we'll just see how it goes. Hopefully I don't go 0 for tomorrow.
Q: Wendell, is there a point when you guys played defense that you actually see in the opponents' eyes that, they've got us by the throat?
Wendell White: We play real hard on defense. The last five minutes of the first half we were very focused. Coach told us to go in there, and we worked by like every four minutes, like what was it, the every four minutes of like the first half, like every timeout. We take coach to heart basically. He says what we need to do and we do it.
Q: Does your approach change at all in a situation where you know you have to come back in less than 24 hours and play another game right away the next day?
Kevin Kruger: I don't think so. You know, we spent the last few days working on Utah's stuff, how to defend them, kind of the game plan we wanted on them. We never once mentioned or prepared for who the next opponent might be.
I know that we, as a team, as players, didn't think about it at all. We were focused on what we had to do tonight because if you as you know, there is no tomorrow if you lose tonight.
Wendell White: The same thing. Like Kevin said, we were very focused on Utah. We can't sleep on nobody in this league 'cause everybody's good. We're happy about the results tonight and we're going to get ready for San Diego State or Colorado State.
THE MODERATOR: Kevin and Wendell, thanks. Questions for Coach Kruger.
Q: What has it been like as a father and coach to have Kevin with you this season?
COACH KRUGER: It's been really good. We recognize it as really a blessing that we don't take for granted. I would have seen Kevin, Barbara my wife would have seen him a lot more because she would have gone to all his games.
I would have seen him play three or four times, maybe been around him five or six days total during this final year of his college experience. To have him here every day, it's been frustrating a little bit for him because of the injuries that he had throughout, but it's good to have him healthy now. It's great to have him around.
Q: What is it about today's kids that you're able to get them to play defense where so many other coaches can't get kids to play defense, it's all about scoring, trying to get highlights? Your guys came out and play with such intensity defensively.
COACH KRUGER: Guys have done that pretty much, as you know, throughout the year. I think that's an area we've kind of gradually built and improved on since November. When you think back to October, we didn't really know that that would be part of our identity.
We thought we might shoot the ball pretty well and maybe be a little bit more finesse oriented. It's kind of I don't think I've been around a club in 30 years where they've kind of surprised us with regard to what their identity became because we haven't shot the ball consistently all year.
But we have been very consistent with getting a little bit more physical and getting a little more aggressive on the ball and kind of hanging our hat on that, even those nights where we haven't shot it well.
Q: In the event you play San Diego State, could I get your thoughts on that match up?
COACH KRUGER: Two good ballgames in the next ballgame. Both pose problems. San Diego State is a club that obviously has played very well in the last month especially. A lot of weapons.
Start with Heath, go down the line, Abukar, Spain, Wade, Williams. They all can hurt you, and they all have had big games. Whoever wins this ballgame we know we'll more than have our hands full and have to play extremely well to have a chance to win.
Q: Do you think Air Force's loss earlier today hurts the conference as a whole getting three teams into the tournament?
COACH KRUGER: Certainly hope not. Air Force is a ballclub obviously they've had two tough weeks, but they're a ballclub, however many weeks there are in a season, if you got 28 out of the 30 weeks you've been in the top 25, you've been ranked, you've played great.
It's unfortunate for Air Force, number one, and the league, number two, to have these four losses over the last two weeks. But I know they would represent the conference very well if they get a bid.
I know other people won't like playing them. I really hope they get a bid, very much think they're deserving.
Q: To me the obvious thing about your team is how hard you all work, above all on the defensive end. Why do you think you're doing so well at home this year?
COACH KRUGER: I think these guys have worked hard regardless of where we've played. I think, as Kevin mentioned, Wendell mentioned, the crowd. You feed off the crowd a little bit. I think anyone gets a little more energized at home.
The crowd picks you up a little bit. You're a little bit fatigued, you get a deflection, get loose ball, you convert that offensively and it kind of energizes you and picks you up.
I think a lot of it, if any team, any young player, the crowd helps a lot.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, coach.
COACH KRUGER: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by University of Utah head coach Ray Giacoletti, student athletes Ricky Johns and Luke Nevill.
Coach, if you want to just begin with some general comments on the game.
COACH GIACOLETTI: I think Vegas' pressure just absolutely wore us down throughout the game. We got off to a good start. That was something we needed to be able to do. But the pressure is something that for 40 minutes we did not handle very well.
It's hard to simulate anything like that in a practice 'cause it's almost impossible to do. That's a great credit to them. Coach Kruger's got these guys bought in at the defensive end. From that, that's their first line of offense, create easy baskets.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student athletes.
Q: Can you talk about what you thought the difference was? You were leading with five minutes to go in the first half, and then all of a sudden you didn't score for a while.
LUKE NEVILL: I'm not sure. I mean, we were playing defense, pretty good defense, the whole first half I thought. We just couldn't knock some shots down in the stretch. They went on a run. You expect teams to go on a run. We just weren't able to match their run.
We missed a couple of shots from the outside. We just kind of got in a deficit that we just couldn't catch up from.
RICKY JOHNS: I mean, that's kind of been like for the past few games, especially going back to the BYU game, that's a part where going into halftime we haven't been able to score. We've been on scoring droughts all year, and that just affected us tonight also.
Q: Ricky, you seemed to have a tough night out there. Do you credit to the defense of UNLV or an off night?
RICKY JOHNS: Yeah, they pressured us on the perimeter, you know, got us out of our sets. We couldn't run it fluidly. That's a credit to their defense.
But it's not about me having a good night or a bad night. The team struggled tonight. That's why the outcome of the game was bad.
Q: It seemed like you obviously knew coming in here they have really strong guard play. What were they able to do to create open shots?
RICKY JOHNS: They just penetrated, and we helped. They used their ball screens. We know they set multiple ball screens. They did that tonight. They just hit a lot of tough shots on us. They hit a lot of contested threes.
I mean, that just goes credit to them. It's on their home floor. Anything can happen for them, so...
LUKE NEVILL: Just kind of the same, along the same lines, they have some good shooters. Kruger hit a lot of tough shots, like deep threes. We just didn't get out and put a hand up at the start. He just knocked a couple down back to back. That just extended their lead, pushed the momentum their way. We just weren't able to catch up.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, we'll let you two go. Thank you.
Questions for Coach Giacoletti.
Q: You didn't have any fast break points. UNLV had 15. What do you think made it so difficult for you guys to get free and anybody get some easy points?
COACH GIACOLETTI: Well, their defense creates easy points for them. We were not able to pressure people like they are able to pressure us. So their defense creates easy baskets for them. Pressure makes you do things you don't want to do.
It's a credit to them because defense is something you can be solid night in and night out. You're not always going to shoot the ball each and every night well. But defense is something they've hung their hat on and it's paid off: 26 wins this year.
Q: You talked about 40 minutes of pressure earlier. How would you compare UNLV's pressure to all the other teams you played this year?
COACH GIACOLETTI: I don't think we've played a team this year that pressures you for 40 minutes as well as they do. I can't even think of somebody else that even compares, to be honest with you.
Q: Did you feel any added emotion, pressure, knowing if you lost, this was going to be your last game as head coach at Utah?
COACH GIACOLETTI: It's not about me. The team's the most important thing. There was no more added pressure one way or the other. We talked all week about it's new life, conference tournaments all over the country, anything's possible in three games in three days. You got to take one at a time. It's kind of the gladiator approach: you lose, you're done.
Q: In your opinion, how many teams do you think deserve to get to post season this year in the NCAA tournament?
COACH GIACOLETTI: I think there's four teams that are very deserving. We're just going to have to see how it plays out.
Q: Did you ever have the thought during the game, it was kind of typical of some games this year where you stayed with the team for a half, but then certain things happened that went wrong?
COACH GIACOLETTI: Again, I mean, we needed to establish being able to handle their pressure and try to keep them in a halfcourt game. We did that early. They hit some tough shots. I mean, I'm not sure anybody would have beat them in our league tonight. I mean, there's times when you guard things the wrong way, and then there's times when you do it the right way. They just hit some tough ones.
I think tonight, especially the first half, I thought we did a pretty good job trying to keep them in a halfcourt, and them having to hit tough shots, and they did it.
Q: Can you talk about the finality of it all for you now? What did you tell the kids in the locker room after the game?
COACH GIACOLETTI: Again, just thanked them for their effort. You find out about yourself during the tough times. Everybody's good during the good times. Let's find out.
We had an opportunity this year to find out through a number of tough times. I think it shows their character for keep working hard. They're going to be better for it down the road.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, coach.